Bernard, John (1756-1828) (DNB00)

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BERNARD, JOHN (1756–1828), actor and writer, was of Irish descent, was born in Portsmouth, and educated at Chichester. His father was a lieutenant in the navy. He showed in early life a strong taste for the stage, which his father attempted to check by placing him in a solicitor's office. On 5 May 1773 he ran away from home, and joined a travelling company, making his first professional appearance as Jaffier at Chew Magna, in a theatre improvised out of a malt-house. After an experience common in those days with the travelling actor, he returned home, and ultimately secured his mother's consent to adopting the stage as a profession. The following year saw him established as 'light comedian' on the Norwich circuit, and married to Mrs. Cooper, a member of the company. After acting in various country theatres, he and Mrs. Bernard became in the winter of 1777-8 members of the Bath company, then held the next distinction to obtaining a London engagement. In 1780-4 Bernard was in Ireland ; he returned in the winter of 1784 to Bath, where he speedily became a social favourite. In the summer of 1780 he commenced at Swansea a series of experiments in management which led ultimately to failure, and to his quitting England for America. On 19 Oct. 1787 Bernard made his first appearance in London, playing at Covent Garden Archer in the 'Beaux' Stratagem' to the Mrs. Sullen of his wife. His engagement was to second Lee Lewis in light comedy. As in Bath, Bernard's chief success appears to have been social. He was appoint ea secretary of the Beefsteak Club, an honour of which he was specially proud, and appears to have gone in for a life of extreme conviviality. His London engagement ended in 1791, and he returned to the country theatres. The following year his wife, who was six years older than himself, died, leaving him open to espouse four years subsequently at Guernsey a young actress named Fisher. The season of 1793-4 saw him again at Covent Garden, which house he definitely quitted at the close of 1795-6. To this theatre he contributed a comic operetta called 'The Poor Sailor, or Little Bob and Little Ben,' which was acted for one night only, his benefit, 29 May 1796, and never printed. One or two dramatic trifles also from his pen were produced at country theatres. Unsuccessful speculations in Brighton and Plymouth were followed by his embarking on 4 Jan. 1797 to fill an engagement in America. At this point the two volumes of his 'Retrospections,' edited by his son, W. Baile Bernard, who subsequently changed his name to Bayle Bernard, terminate [q. v.] His first appearance in the United States was made at the Greenwich Street Theatre, New York, as Goldfinch in the 'Road to Ruin.' The following winter he went to Philadelphia, appearing as Young Wilding in the 'Liar' and Ruttekin in 'Robin Hood.' In Philadelphia he remained till 1803, in which year he went to Boston. In 1800 he was associated with Powers in the management of the Federal Street Theatre, Boston, and visited England in search of recruits. While in England he married his third wife, Miss Wright. He remained at the Federal Street house until 1810. During the following years he travelled in the United States and Canada, and returned in 1817 to Boston. His farewell of the stage took place in Boston, 19 April 1819, in the 'Soldier's Daughter.' He is spoken of with praise in such characters as Doricourt and Lovegold in the 'Miser,' &c., but can never have been more than a second-class actor. According to an English critic, 'he had a light neatness in his figure, countenance, and manner.' A selection from his voluminous retrospections appeared two years after his death, which took place in London towards the close of 1828. A further selection, entitled 'Retrospections of the American Stage by John Bernard,' edited by Laurence Hutton and Brander Matthews, began in the June (1884) number of the 'Manhattan and New York Magazine,' but was discontinued after the appearance of three instalments. Some of the dates given in the introduction to this are different from those we supply. Our own dates are, however, accurate. Six chapters of American retrospections by John Bernard, selected by his son, also appear in Tallis's 'Dramatic Magazine,' 1860-1.

[Bernard's Retrospections of the Stage, 2 vols. 1830; Dunlop's History of the American Theatre; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Biographia Dramatica.]

J. K.